Common Causes of Bad Breath
General Oral Health
Most bad breath is caused by poor oral hygiene. If you don’t clean your teeth and your whole mouth regularly, food particles can remain in your mouth and a sticky buildup of bacteria (also known as plaque) can form on your teeth. The uneven surface of your tongue, as well as your tonsils, can trap food particles and bacteria in the mouth which produce bad breath odor. Poor oral hygiene also causes other oral health conditions such as cavities and gum disease which are also associated with bad breath. Keeping a consistent and thorough oral care routine is the best defence against bad breath.
Eating Flavorful Food & Drink
After eating certain foods—like onions, garlic, certain vegetables and spices—odor-causing food particles enter the bloodstream and are carried to the lungs, where they affect the odor of your breath each time you exhale.
If you’re a big fan of a strong cup of coffee in the morning to start your day, you may have noticed that it can leave you feeling like you have bad breath. Coffee can be a cause of bad breath due to its intense flavour as well as the effect it has on saliva production. After drinking coffee, the caffeine leads to a decline in saliva production. Less saliva means an increase in odor-causing bacteria.
Alcohol consumption is another culprit of bad breath, so the more often you drink – the more likely you are to experience it. Drinking alcohol, particularly in excess, causes a decrease in saliva production, which is the best environment for odor-causing bacteria to flourish.
In addition to adventurous or spicy foods, diets that are high in sugar and protein can also result in bad breath. A diet high in sugar can lead to bad breath and could be the culprit for halitosis due to how sugars interact with the existing bacteria in your mouth. The bacteria that naturally exist in your mouth feed on sugars turning sweet treats into sour smells.
High-Protein or Low-Carb Diets
Carbohydrates serve crucial functions in our bodies, and if your diet is low enough in carbs, it can lead to bad breath. When the body doesn’t get enough carbs due to an extreme diet, this can cause changes to your body’s metabolism which can lead to bad breath. High-protein foods are sometimes difficult for your body to digest and tend to release sulfurous gases when they don’t metabolize. Avoid this by eating a more balanced and nutritious diet including more vegetables and herbs.
Tobacco products—whether it’s cigarettes, chew, or pipe—all cause bad breath and lead to much more serious oral health issues. Apart from leaving your mouth smelling like an ashtray, they damage the gum tissue and cause gum disease.
Poor digestion, constipation, or bowel disorders can all cause unfortunate odor on the breath. If you frequently experience acid reflux, the odors from recently consumed foods may easily make their way back up the oesophagus and out the mouth, causing bad breath.
Saliva helps keep your mouth clean by removing food particles that lead to bad breath. When the production of saliva slackens or stops, a condition known as xerostomia, bad breath is likely to follow. This happens naturally while you sleep, which is why most people find their breath to be a bit stinky upon waking up. But if the problem persists throughout the day, treatment may be worth considering.
Hundreds of prescription medications come with the side effect of dry mouth. When your mouth is dry, when saliva production decreases, the environment for odor-causing bacteria thrives. Any extended period of time with a cotton mouth can cause discomfort and lead to bad breath. Additionally, some medications, when broken down in the body, release chemicals that can be carried through your bloodstream to your breath.
Why Do Poor Habits Cause Bad Breath?
If you don’t brush and floss teeth daily, food particles can remain in your mouth, promoting bacterial growth between teeth, around the gums, and on the tongue. This causes bad breath. Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) from poor dental hygiene can also cause bad breath.
In addition, odor-causing bacteria and food particles can cause bad breath if dentures are not properly cleaned.
Smoking or chewing tobacco-based products also can cause bad breath, stain teeth, reduce your ability to taste foods, and irritate your gums.
What Health Problems Are Associated With Bad Breath?
Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth may be a warning sign of gum (periodontal) disease. Gum disease is caused by the buildup of plaque on teeth. Bacteria cause toxins to form, which irritate the gums. If gum disease continues untreated, it can damage the gums and jawbone.
Other dental causes of bad breath include poorly fitting dental appliances, yeast infections of the mouth, and cavities.
- Seasonal allergies
- Respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis
- Long-term (chronic) sinus infections
- Postnasal drip
- Chronic acid reflux
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Chronic lung infection
- Liver or kidney problems
What Can I Do to Prevent Bad Breath?
There are some quick and easy ways to banish bad breath. Just remember, the odor from what you eat can stick around until the food works its way completely out of your system — up to 3 days later!
Bad breath can be reduced or prevented if you:
- Practice good oral hygiene. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove food debris and plaque. Brush teeth after you eat (keep a toothbrush at work or school to brush after lunch). Don’t forget to brush the tongue too, or use a tongue scraper. Bacteria on your tongue can contribute to bad breath. If you can’t brush after a meal, give your mouth a good rinse with water to at least loosen up and free those trapped bits. Replace your toothbrush every 2 to 3 months or after an illness. Use floss or an interdental cleaner to remove food particles and plaque between teeth once a day. Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash twice a day. Antiseptic mouthwash can help kill bacteria that cause bad breath and plaque that can lead to gingivitis, an early, mild form of gum disease. Adding a fluoride rinse to your daily routine can help prevent tooth decay. Dentures should be removed at night and cleaned thoroughly before being placed in your mouth the next morning. Clean braces and retainers as directed by your dentist.
- See your dentist regularly — at least twice a year. They will do an oral exam and professional teeth cleaning and will be able to find and treat periodontal disease, dry mouth, or other problems that may be the cause of bad breath.
- Stop smoking and chewing tobacco-based products. Ask your dentist for tips on kicking the habit.
- Drink lots of water. This will keep your mouth moist. Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless candy also stimulates the production of saliva, which helps wash away food particles and bacteria. Gums and mints containing xylitol are best.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat. Apples, carrots, celery, and other hard fruits and vegetables help clear odor-causing plaque and food particles from your mouth.
- Keep a log of the foods you eat. If you think they may be causing bad breath, bring the log to your dentist to review. Similarly, make a list of the medications you take. Some drugs may play a role in creating mouth odors.
Who Treats Bad Breath?
In most cases, your dentist can treat the cause of bad breath.
If your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy and the odor is not of oral origin, you may be referred to your family doctor or to a specialist to determine the odor source and treatment plan. You can go over a list of your medications with them to see if any of them could be contributing to the problem. Work with them to keep diabetes, allergies, and other conditions under control.
If the odor is due to gum disease, for example, your dentist can either treat the disease or refer you to a periodontist, a dentist who specializes in treating gum conditions.